Meeting of the Minds: Gene Chizik

In 2010 Gene Chizik's Tigers captured Auburn's first national championship in something like 62 years. (Had Auburn ever won a national championship before? I don't even know.) A mere two years later, the heat on Chizik's seat is starting to rise in inverse proportion to his team's winning percentage – the Tigers' record fell to 1-4 with last weekend's loss to lowly Arkansas.

Does any coach deserve that level of scrutiny so soon after taking his school to the top of the college football world? Should coaches get a grace period for that kind of achievement? Working from the general to the specific, is Chiz actually a good coach?

Dave Singleton: It was Auburn's first claimed mythical national title since 1957 (43 years), and their third claimed mythical national title from what I'm reading.

I think that success breeds the desire for more success in most sports, none more so than in football. In this instance, the fact that Alabama has won the two titles surrounding Chizik's does no favors for Gene in this case.
It might be a scant two years (barely) since he hoisted the crystal football, but let's also look at some other numbers. If you take away the special season orchestrated by a freak and a force of nature known as Cam Newton with assistance from Gus Malzahn, Gene Chizik's record as a head coach is 22-33 overall, 9-26 in conference play in the Big 12 and the SEC. Outside of the 2010 season, he has not finished over .500 in conference play. Outside of 2010, he has not finished above 4th place in his division (Big 12 North or SEC West).

He has never had a defense that ranked in the top 50 nationally in total defense, and only twice has he had a team that ranked in the top 50 nationally in total offense.
Looking at the advanced statistics, the picture is about the same. Except for the first two years at Auburn (and in particular 2010), Chizik hasn't shown much. The numbers all look pretty pedestrian at best and putrid at worst. He doesn't appear (to me) to be a good coach.
All of that being said, does the seat deserve to be hot? I'm not sure. The only people who know for sure are the boosters. Are they satisfied with the direction of the program? Keep in mind that Chizik wasn't exactly greeted like a conquering hero when he arrived. I think given the circumstances, his leash might be appropriately short.
Andy Coppens: Having been at Iowa State during the Chizik "era" I think I can speak with a little knowledge on this.

As was pointed out his record as a head coach is awful. He's also not that good of a recruiter. In fact it took two years under Paul Rhoads to get the depth back up on the roster.

His offenses were ok at ISU but the defenses were terrible. Sitting through a homecoming drubbing by Oklahoma and watching Kansas State come back against us in Farmaggedon were the only evidence I needed.

The other part of this is the fact that as a person & personality he rubs people the wrong way.

Leaving ISU after lying directly to the AD & the fans by saying he had zero contact with any schools, while on a PR trip to a T-Wolves game, less than 4 hours before boarding a plane for Auburn and taking the job should tell you all you need to know about what kind of a person he is.

After settling down about being lied to the vast majority of ISU fans were more than happy to see him go following a hapless 2-10 record in year two at ISU, mainly with his players in place btw. Genre rally the 2nd year should be improvement – maybe not in record, but how you compete & ISU wasn't competitive in most of their games in 2008.

So long story short he isn't a good coach, not a very trust worthy person, can't recruit well, and has a record nearly 10 games below .500 as a HC. All of those things tell me the national championship was more about a guy named Newton than about how good a coach Chizik is.

He deserves whatever is coming to him because of all the things I've named. It's a rough & tumble world but a lucky national championship does not a good coach make. Chizik is proving to be a bad coach more often than not.
Michael Felder: I like Chizik. I liked him when he was a defensive coordinator and I like him now. I think Auburn, as a program, was so wildly eroded when he took over that 2010 fooled people into thinking they were something they were not. It was a team that had one of the greatest single seasons ever from Cam Newton, a great defensive linemen, two very good freshmen and a whole lot of not much else.

In other words two JUCO transfers are the simultaneous greatest and worst things to happen for Chizik. They got him a title but they made people believe he could fix Auburn football quicker than it could possibly be done. This is a team that, in 2008, lost to Vanderbilt, got trounced by West Virginia, lost to Ole Miss and got steamrolled 36-0 by Alabama. The guy walked into a rebuild job and that 2010 title made people think progress was made when the reality was far from that. JUCOs are band-aids not cures.
As for recruiting, he's got the 9th rated Rivals class right now and if he continues that trajectory that would make four straight Top Ten classes. His lowest recruiting job at Auburn was 19th and that was in his first year on the job. I'm not one to confuse "couldn't recruit talent to Iowa State" with "he cannot recruit." This is a dude that has got talent into the program. The team is young right now but they have some quality ball players that are trying to make a tough transition on both sides of the football.
I'd give him more time. He's got a great coordinator in Brian VanGorder and we'll see how the Scot Loefler experience works out. The defense needs elite talent to work and they are slowly filling those coffers now. Trooper Taylor and Tommy Thigpen can recruit as well as anyone in the nation and with those two guys on his side I think Chizik still has a shot to put in good work at Auburn.

Andy Coppens: Sorry, but I am going to take issue with you quoting recruiting rankings period. How accurate are those things? If you believe them then schools like Wisconsin, Michigan State, Oregon State, UCLA, and plenty of others aren't supposed to be competing for bowl games, let alone conference championships.

That's the weakest argument I've heard in years. Fine by me if you like Chizik and think he deserves more time, but recruiting ranks mean SQUAT when it comes to on the field competition. Take Texas as a great example. They've been recruiting some of the top classes in the country for like the last 20 years, but that doesn't mean they'll be successful. In fact while they were ranking up Top 10 classes following the National Championship look what happened as those classes became Juniors and Seniors? Those teams sucked!
Talent alone doesn't win you championships, recruiting the right players (not just the most talented) and good coaching get you championships and Chizik can't coach as a head coach in my book.
There is such thing as a great coordinator but a bad head coach and Chizik is the latest in that mold in my opinion.
Michael Felder: Hahahaha, you're joking right?

You say Chizik can't recruit. Then I say he's done a solid job of recruiting at Auburn. Then you say recruiting doesn't matter.
This is ridiculous. If his recruiting doesn't matter then why say that he's terrible at it? If he's recruiting top level players then clearly he's assembled a staff that flies in the face of the idea that he can't recruit.
I never said talent alone wins you titles, I merely addressed the point made about him not being able to recruit. Sorry if you failed to understand that. Hopefully, now that it is explained to you, you can comprehend the point that was made, based upon your assessment of Chizik recruiting. Hopefully.
As for him as a head coach, I merely said I'd give him more time. I like what they are trying to do on defense and as the talent finally comes in AND it gets to work with Brian VanGorder I think the level of success on that side of the ball should increase. On offense, as I said already, we'll see what happens with Loeffler. Personally, I don't think Loeffler's a good offensive coordinator but transition periods are never easy and he's been a transition guy for his last three major stops.
The entire crux of my point was that Auburn was in bad shape in 2009 when Chizik took over. The 2010 title did more harm then good from a perception standpoint with respect to how fast people expected the turn around to occur. It's pretty simple really; they were mediocre when Chizik got the reins, they were mediocre every year but 2010 when the JUCO players pushed them to high levels and now they're a team in universal transition that is completely out of sync and just plain bad.
When you lose a coordinator things can look off. When you change coordinators on both sides of the ball AND the style of football being played things can get downright ugly.

Andy Coppens: O.k., perhaps I did miss some of your point, but I just saw you relying on rankings which I have never bought into for teams or for players. Call it the Wisconsin bias if you want, but my personal experience is that the individual stars and team rankings mean crap to the overall success of players and programs – it's about creating an identity as to who you are as a program and finding players that fit that – whether it's all "5 star" guys or a bunch of walk-on's.

How many of those awesome players he's recruited have left the team or been dismissed? Recruiting is more than just bringing in a crap ton of players that some people say are amazing. It's about bringing in people that fit the culture and style you are playing. To that end Chizik has recruited a lot of players that are basically like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole and has had to change the type of player he recruits to fit more than one system more than once, that kills the momentum a program could build, no?

That also goes to who he's bringing in to coach on both sides of the ball. If you know you don't have the players to play a certain style of football then why are you bringing in a coach that only coaches that style of football? All you do is hamstring your players and your team.
I agree VanGorder can be a good defensive coach and has a bright future, but in the SEC it's a win now all the time mentality and two seasons removed from a National Championship you shouldn't be sustaining losing records no matter where you are – the SEC or the Big East.
Normally I'm with you on giving coaches time, but looking at his body of work I'm more inclined to think the National Championship season was a complete anomaly rather than something he can compete to achieve on a yearly basis. He's not a good head coach – a good defensive mind yes, but we've seen coordinators fail as head coaches over and over again. He isn't the first and won't be the last.

Kevin McGuire: On a much simpler scale, I have always been of the belief that a championship is reward with a five-year grace period before unrest becomes a factor in the fan base. That said, things might be a little different in the SEC, where anything short of a BCS championship seems to be a call for dismissal. But if that were truly the case, Mark Richt would have been removed a long time ago. The difference between Richt and Gene Chizik is clearly that one still manages to win games and bring in recruiting classes he can develop and one has not.

We can break down all sorts of reasons Chizik is or is not a good coach, but I think much of the groundwork has already been covered by my colleagues here. To me, we are seeing what Chizik is when Cam Newton is not on his roster, and few coaches can survive for long depending on the graces of one special individual. In my book, that is a huge alarm sounding off right there. Chizik is 36-33 including an undefeated season with 14 wins with Cam Newton. Other than that, has there been anything great about him? No.
Yet, I am not ready to suggest he should be let go and it falls back on that grace period philosophy. I would like to see what he can do recruiting his own guys and developing them. This is his fourth season, so everybody on the roster is essentially his to take credit or blame for. I think the fact that Alabama has already won another BCS title and looks poised for another this season is what lights the fire for Auburn fans, who felt they had taken over in the state of Alabama with their first BCS title.
Jealousy is what is driving much of the heat on Chizik's job, but he still needs to put together a stronger showing with what he can do.

Dave Singleton: I didn't think Auburn had eroded near the end. I think it might have hit stasis when Tuberville got the axe, and the failed Tony Franklin System™ experiment might have been the cause of the downfall of Tuberville.

On some level, how eroded was the program if Chizik came in with what was left from Tuberville, with a new OC, and pulled out 8 games? Yes, it was a team that went 5-7 the prior season, but I don't think it was a program bereft of talent, although it might have been a place that needed a change of leadership.
I think the Saban effect is at play here. As long as Alabama keeps racking up wins, number one rankings in the polls, winning the SEC and competing for mythical national championships, the heat is going to be on the Auburn head football coach—whomever that may be.

Aaron Torres: First of all, I think it's simply asinine for there to be any discussion that Chizik is any trouble at Auburn. I know this is football in the SEC, and football in Alabama, but let's take away the fact that the man won a National Championship two years ago. Didn't he just win eight games last year? How short are people's memories?

Now, I think the concept that Auburn won a title with two National Championships is overplayed, and why I don't think Chizik should go anywhere. Let's remember that he inherited four junior and one sophomore offensive linemen, which became the strongest offensive line in the country in the National Championship season. Let's remember names like Josh Bynes, El Toro Freeman (still the coolest name ever in college football) and Zac Ethridge on the defense. What do they all have in common? They were recruited by a previous staff.

What's my point with that? Well for starters, those guys were all upperclassmen, and that the younger classes, the freshmen and sophomores (which became juniors and seniors over the last few years) were completely depleted. Therefore, while it left Chizik with plenty of upper-level talent at his disposal, it didn't leave much in terms of depth. That, more than anything is why the Tigers have struggled the last few years.

More importantly, it leads to something else: As Michael mentioned, this is a very, very young team right now, with a lot of talent coming in next year. What happens if you fire Chizik and the next guy has success? Does that mean the other guy can coach? Or he just inherited a lot of talent from the guy before him? How are we even sure- one way or the other- that Chizik can coach at this point? Given that the team improved by three games Chizik's first year, and won eight last year, I'm inclined to say the latter, not the former.

I guess what I'm going to say is, I'd ride with Chizik. And if not, well guess what? There are going to be plenty of other programs willing to give the guy an opportunity.

Point is, we aren't even two years removed from the title, and frankly, I don't think we're two years removed from Auburn potentially being really good again (especially if some of the 2013 recruits are as good as advertised). But to fire Chizik now? It'd simply set back the program even further than it already is.

Dave Singleton: Allow me to go off on a tanget, but Aaron, when you say this:

"What happens if you fire Chizik and the next guy has success? Does that mean the other guy can coach? Or he just inherited a lot of talent from the guy before him? How are we even sure- one way or the other- that Chizik can coach at this point?

I think you are speaking to a larger issues about coaching contracts and determining success as a coach.
Should the first year (successful or not) of any new coach be disregarded because of the players that were left behind? How should progress be judged/evaluated?
The more extremist elements of fanbases don't think in the long term. For some diehards (alumni and sidewalk fans alike) the short term, week to week ebbs and flows are the most critical thing. The long term health and viability of a program is not taken into account. Development is not taken into account. Progress is judged strictly by records. By that element, it's never going to take long for the seat to get hot, and losing is only tolerated for so long.
I'm going to use my own alma mater as an example. The first four years of Gary Pinkel's tenure at the University of Missouri, he had two losing seasons, took the team to a bowl game in year three, and was back below .500 in year four. In the current climate, he would probably have been fired. But the athletic department saw some progress, and stuck with him, and the subsequent seasons (not counting this year's tire fire thanks to injuries and a new conference) have been some of the better ones in Mizzou football history.
Patience is a virtue for a reason, and I do believe that coaches need more than three or four years in football. Culture change doesn't happen overnight in football; it's not that dynamic a sport and you're dealing with rosters in the 100s. It's nice fodder for columns and talk radio to call for the heads of coaches, but you do more harm than good when firing folks before they've had time to establish themselves.
But…we also know that this is the state of Alabama we're talking about. The football partisans there take fanatical to a whole other level. Does that make it right? Nope. Is it the reality? Yep.

Brandon Cavanaugh: I've subscribed to the theory of letting a coach get his staff and players into a program before calling for the ax unless he absolutely tanks. We're talking sub-.500 record, players leaving, etc. I see a coach that finally has "his" program right down the road in Bo Pelini. This is his first head coaching gig and now we're at year five under his watch. Every staff member's hire was signed off on by him. Every player recruited was given the thumbs up by him. This is his team in every way now.

Pelini hasn't brought a conference title to Nebraska for the first time since before Y2K, but Chizik can claim a Heisman Trophy winner and national title under his watch. Let's be honest, Cam Newton helped make his national championship team. He was/is an absolute freak of nature. If you take away Newton, I see Chizik as a poor man's Pelini and I don't think Bo's the guy to take Nebraska back to greatness. Maybe Gene will get a jolt of SEC-level talent which can cure all that ails you, but I'll be another guy to point to Mark Richt's tenure.
With all we've heard about him being on the hot seat over the years, how has he avoided not getting fired in an SEC climate?


About Dave Singleton

Dave Singleton has been writing about sports and other stuff on the internet for over a decade. His work has been featured at Crystal Ball Run, Rock M Nation and Southern Pigskin. Born and raised on the East Coast, Dave attended college in the Midwest. He now lives in the Las Vegas area.